Insights by Goldie: Corn Refiners Association: these treacle tricksters are no treat!

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in August 2010

While Web surfing recently for items on high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), I was confronted repeatedly with intrusive and unctuous pop-up advertisements. They jumped out from the page, yelling “ Discover The Facts About HFCS, Sugar & Honey Online Today!”

HFCS is created from almost all genetically engineered field corn and borne on the backs of U.S. taxpayers — field corn is one of the most subsidized U.S. commodity crops.

It turns out is full of surprises — though probably not what the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), the membership trade group that hosts it, intended. The website functions as the core propaganda tool of “Changing the Conversation,” a slick public relations campaign launched by CRA in 2008.

CRA seems intent on ferreting out doubters and reforming, reeducating and realigning attitudes of the general public, food manufacturers, and health care professionals. It’s out to change the minds of anyone who evinces even the slightest doubt that HFCS is the purest, safest, healthiest, tastiest — and yes, “natural-est!” — sweetener ever created in a laboratory, made using only all-natural chemical processes and brilliant laboratory technology, of course! Oh, did I mention? HFCS sales have been slumping.

Clearly, the one “conversation” the CRA doesn’t want to have is that the sugar-daddy they’ve been sucking on for decades is nowadays also 1) almost certainly created from all genetically engineered field corn, and 2) borne on the backs of U.S. taxpayers — field corn is one of the most subsidized U.S. commodity crops.

The seven conglomerates that comprise CRA all “wet mill” field corn, but only five behemoths — including Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill — create HFCS. The most recent figures I found list 23.5 billion pounds of HFCS shipped to food manufacturers in 2005. Consumption estimates for HFCS range from 10 to 30 percent of daily caloric intake by Americans.

CRA lab wizards chemically extract cornstarch, then chemically hydrolyze it to create sucrose (common sugar) — with equal levels of fructose bonded to glucose. Chemicals break those bonds and modern alchemists, using genetically engineered enzymes, separate and manipulate fructose ratios at will. It’s possible for HFCS to meet every new whim for industrial food processors, who can order HFCS-42, HFCS-55, or HFCS-90.

HFCS-55 is the biggest seller, sweetening nearly 100 percent of sodas in the United States — and some Coca-Cola in Mexico is now switching over to it, too, despite the popularity (and reported better taste) of Mexican cola made with sugar. But I digress, pondering CRA’s chutzpah to insist, still, that all HFCS is pure and “natural.” Noses are growing.

Under the “School Foods” link on, I learned that do-gooders (maybe you’re one?) should stop meddling in school menus, demanding more fresh, local, less-processed foods. Stop trying to ban foods with HFCS because: “Eliminating High Fructose Corn Syrup from school nutrition programs would significantly increase school breakfast and lunch costs and … removing items that often contain high fructose corn syrup from a sample middle school lunch menu would reduce offerings by 67 percent.”

I also learned HFCS “provides many consumer benefits and often plays a key role in the integrity of food and beverage products that has little to do with sweetening.” [Emphasis added]. Hmmm. Food for thought.

HFCS “keeps food fresh” (canned fruits, ketchup, cheese spreads), enhances fruit and spice flavors (yogurts, flavored milks, jams, jellies, maple syrups, canned fruits, marinades, spaghetti sauce), improves flavor by reducing tartness (spaghetti sauce, ketchup, canned tomatoes), and keeps ingredients evenly dispersed (salad dressings, mayonnaise, mustard, other condiments).” In baked goods, HFCS also “aids browning” and “contributes fermentable sugars.”

My organic maple syrup is sweet enough. I make my own dressings, a pinch of organic sugar when needed balances tartness, my pastries are golden, and honey excites the yeast so my breads rise to the occasion. But uh oh, my organic ketchup from PCC — which hasn’t sold ketchup or anything else with HFCS since November 2007 — is it “un-fresh” for lack of HFCS?!

CRA’s battery of lawyers, in three warning letters to PCC, insists we need to change our website references to HFCS, such as this: “…peer-reviewed studies have linked HFCS to health disorders, including fatty liver disease.” (See PCC Natural Markets free of high fructose corn syrup, news release, November 28, 2007).

PCC will not remove or change any factual statements, opinions, or comments. PCC will continue to sell no foods containing HFCS.

Also in this issue

A toast to Powers Winery ... and you!

This June PCC Farmland Trust reached a milestone worth celebrating — our partnership with Powers Winery surpassed $50,000 raised in support of organic farmland preservation. For every Powers’ Farmland Trust Cabernet or Chardonnay bottle sold at PCC Natural Markets, two dollars is donated to the trust.

The Flavor Industry

For thousands of years, spices and sauces and different forms of cooking have flavored our food naturally. So, why is there a multi-billion dollar industry based on replicating these results? The evolution of food flavoring in America began during the Industrial Revolution.

Your co-op, August 2010

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